Anyone interested in the Western should have seen George Stevens’ Technicolor Shane, a classic of the genre ranked as the third greatest Western of all time by the American Film Institute – and if you haven’t, now’s your chance, as Eureka have released it on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
The story is simple and archetypal. A ruthless cattle baron is waging war on a Wyoming valley’s homesteaders, intent on intimidating them out of their homes. Gunslinger Shane (Alan Ladd) rides into town, gets a job on the Starrett family’s farm, and helps them defend what’s theirs.
Watching it in 2015, there’s a lot about Shane that gives away its age – the slow pacing may jar for some viewers (so… much… woodcutting), and the way Shane’s affair with Marian Starrett (Jean Arthur) is implied rather than shown shows up the sensibilities of the era.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot to appreciate, even today. There’s the iconic imagery of the gunslinger who rides off into the night after saving the town, which inspired Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns. There’s the subtle development of the relationships between the Starrett family. There’s the commentary on the use of guns, oddly thoughtful for a studio Western – “We'd all be much better off if there wasn't a single gun left in this valley – including yours”, Marian tells Shane, words that resonate today. And there’s the display of ‘50s acting talent, from Jack Palance to Elisha Cook, Jr. – though this is let down by the focus on young Joey Starrett, played by a child actor with approximately one facial expression. There’s a good drinking game rule in taking a swig every time he whinges the word “Shaaaaane”.
Eureka have put together a top quality package for fans to dive into – the film, stunningly restored to high definition, is presented in the intended Academy aspect ratio, as well as the original 1.66:1 theatrical presentation and a newly optimised alternate 1.66:1 framing – plus there’s a 36-page booklet including, among other things, an essay on what that all means. Also included on these limited edition discs are the usual commentaries (featuring the director’s son George Stevens, Jr.) and film scholar interviews, plus an audio adaptation of Shane by the popular Lux Radio Theatre – so if you enjoy the movie, you can relive the whole thing on your commute!
If you know Shane by its lofty reputation, you may be disappointed by its aging and its faults (“oh, Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaane!”), but there are good reasons it’s known as one of the cornerstones of Hollywood Westerns. With this solidly put-together release from Eureka, now is a good time to fill in the Shane-shaped gap in your collection.
SHANE (1953) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: GEORGE STEVENS / SCREENPLAY: A.B. GUTHRIE JR. / STARRING: ALAN LADD, JEAN ARTHUR, VAN HEFLIN, JACK PALANCE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW